Birth asphyxia

What is birth asphyxia?

Birth asphyxia, also known as perinatal asphyxia or neonatal asphyxia, occurs when a baby doesn’t receive enough oxygen and blood supply before, during or just after birth.


Disease prognosis

Birth asphyxia can be serious if it is not treated in time since the consequences can lead to death or life-long health conditions. Some of them are:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Deafness and blindness
  • Reading difficulties
  • Attention-deficit


What are the symptoms of birth asphyxia?

The symptoms will depend on the degree of asphyxiation. Doctors tend to look for various symptoms when diagnosing this condition including:

  • Pale or blue skin colour
  • Weak reflexes
  • Decreased muscle tone (floppy baby syndrome)
  • Low heart rate
  • Seizures
  • Breathing difficulties or not breathing at all
  • Low level of attention


How is birth asphyxia diagnosed?

Diagnostic tests can be carried out to diagnose birth asphyxia, which includes:

  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Test to evaluate the amniotic fluid
  • Foetal heart rate monitoring
  • Electrocardiogram


What are the causes of birth asphyxia?

Some of the causes of birth asphyxia, before and during birth, may include:

  • Low blood pressure in the mother
  • Inadequate oxygen levels in the mother’s blood due to respiratory problems
  • Early separation of the uterus, known as placental abruption
  • Poor placental function
  • Heart or lung diseases affecting the mother
  • Severe anaemia

Low oxygen levels will decrease a baby’s heart rate, blood flow and blood pressure which results in reduced blood flow around the body and subsequent cell damage to vital organs and tissues. The brain, heart, lungs, gastrointestinal tract and kidneys are typically the main organs to be affected.


Can it be prevented?

Prevention can be difficult since it is a complex condition to predict, although it consists of identifying and promptly treating the cause so that any damage to the foetus is reduced. For this, different tests are usually performed to identify symptoms.


Treatments for birth asphyxia

If the condition is identified before birth, treatment involves giving the mother extra oxygen before giving birth, performing an emergency delivery or caesarean section or providing medications to support the baby’s breathing and blood supply.


After birth, adequate resuscitation must be performed to reverse and prevent injuries caused by asphyxiation. In addition, a baby who is experiencing severe heart or lung failure may need to use an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine to deliver oxygen to the baby’s body and brain and provide temporary support.